When I was a kid, my parents’ bookshelves held an incredible 27-volume set of Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedias. I would frequently rush to Funk & Wagnalls with my many questions, carefully selecting the correct volume and flipping anxiously through its pages, hoping desperately that the answer could be found there. And if it couldn’t, well, then, tough. Go to the library, why don’t you?
Those bookshelves still display the encyclopedia set in all its gold-trimmed textual splendor, but it’s collecting dust—and not only because its entries are dated to 1971. These days, our questions are answered much more easily through the nigh-unstoppable power of Google.
Google has become so ubiquitous that people are using it as a verb: “I Googled it.” This kind of Orwellian Newspeak can drive editors crazy, but I’m personally a big fan of linguistic mutants such as this one. When our society develops and embraces a new word, it means something significant about the state of our culture—in this case it references our ever-expanding access to, and reliance upon, the huge knowledge base that is the Internet.
With the advent of Blackberries and the like, this knowledge is almost always directly at hand. There’s no need to wait for answers anymore. I used to spend hours trying to remember the name of “that actor in that movie,” and now my questions are answered so fast that my brain is left scrambling for new ones (an exercise that is encouraged by sites like Wikipedia, which draw you into a page-after-page spiral of unnecessary information).
Has this improved our lives? Maybe. But I can’t help but feel like our collective memory is suffering as a result of our reliance on new technology.
Our generation may be more skilled at trivia than any other the world has ever seen, but perhaps there is a limit to what our brains can store. And I can’t help but wonder what important information all these amazing facts about giant squids and apple evaporators have displaced from my brain.
But I guess I’ll find that out the next time I have to do anything useful in a power outage.